In this holistic review of cycling science, the objectives are: (1) to identify the various human and environmental factors that influence cycling power output and velocity; (2) to discuss, with the aid of a schematic model, the often complex interrelationships between these factors; and (3) to suggest future directions for research to help clarify how cycling performance can be optimized, given different race disciplines, environments and riders. Most successful cyclists, irrespective of the race discipline, have a high maximal aerobic power output measured from an incremental test, and an ability to work at relatively high power outputs for long periods. The relationship between these characteristics and inherent physiological factors such as muscle capilliarization and muscle fibre type is complicated by inter-individual differences in selecting cadence for different race conditions. More research is needed on high-class professional riders, since they probably represent the pinnacle of natural selection for, and physiological adaptation to, endurance exercise. Recent advances in mathematical modelling and bicycle-mounted strain gauges, which can measure power directly in races, are starting to help unravel the interrelationships between the various resistive forces on the bicycle (e.g. air and rolling resistance, gravity). Interventions on rider position to optimize aerodynamics should also consider the impact on power output-of the rider. All-terrain bicycle (ATB) racing is a neglected discipline in terms of the characterization of power outputs in race conditions and the modelling of the effects of the different design of bicycle frame, and components on the magnitude of resistive forces. A direct application of mathematical models of cycling velocity has been in identifying optimal pacing strategies for different race conditions. Such data should, nevertheless, be considered alongside physiological optimization of power output in a race. An even distribution of power output is both physiologically and biophysically optimal for longer (> 4 km) time-trials held in conditions of unvarying wind and gradient. For shorter races (e.g. a 1 km time-trial), an 'all out' effort from the start is advised to 'save' time during the initial phase that contributes most to total race time and to optimize the contribution of kinetic energy to race velocity. From a biophysical standpoint, the optimum pacing strategy for road time-trials may involve increasing power in headwinds and uphill sections and decreasing power in tailwinds and when travelling downhill. More research, using models and direct power measurement, is needed to elucidate fully how much such a pacing strategy might save time in a real race and how much a variable power output can be tolerated by a rider. The cyclist's diet is a multifactorial issue in itself and many researchers have tried to examine aspects of cycling nutrition (e.g. timing, amount, composition) in isolation. Only recently have researchers attempted to analyse interrelationships between dietary factors (e.g. the link between pre-race and in-race dietary effects on performance). The thermal environment is a mediating factor in choice of diet, since there may be competing interests of replacing lost fluid and depleted glycogen during and after a race. Given the prevalence of stage racing in professional cycling, more research into the influence of nutrition on repeated bouts of exercise performance and training is required.